Glenn Beck said something on Fox & Friends this morning that I thought was pretty insightful; many Americans are in a state of shock at all that is happening and are simply, perhaps understandably, focusing on things within their control . . . while the entire country, even the world, to quote Beck, “is on fire.” It’s called “normalcy bias” and “is also known as the ostrich effect. It is also sometimes known as the incredulity response and analysis paralysis” (source). While most often bandied about by End Times proselytizers and survivalists, it is taken seriously by agencies responsible for emergency response, disaster preparedness, and public safety.
In a crisis, our instincts can be our undoing. William Morgan, who directs the exercise-psychology lab at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, has studied mysterious scuba accidents in which divers drowned with plenty of air in their tanks. It turns out that certain people experience an intense feeling of suffocation when their mouths are covered. They respond to that overwhelming sensation by relying on their instinct, which is to rip out whatever is in their mouths. For scuba divers, unfortunately, it is their oxygen source. On land, that would be a perfect solution.
Why do our instincts sometimes backfire so dramatically? Research on how the mind processes information suggests that part of the problem is a lack of data. Even when we’re calm, our brains require 8 to 10 sec. to handle each novel piece of complex information. The more stress, the slower the process. Bombarded with new information, our brains shift into low gear just when we need to move fast. We diligently hunt for a shortcut to solve the problem more quickly. If there aren’t any familiar behaviors available for the given situation, the mind seizes upon the first fix in its library of habits–if you can’t breathe, remove the object in your mouth.
That neurological process might explain, in part, the urge to stay put in crises. “Most people go their entire lives without a disaster,” says Michael Lindell, a professor at the Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center at Texas A&M University. “So, the most reasonable reaction when something bad happens is to say, This can’t possibly be happening to me.” Lindell sees the same tendency, which disaster researchers call normalcy bias, when entire populations are asked to evacuate. (source)
Normalcy bias is what caused the people who were in the staircases at the World Trade Center buildings, on the way down to safety, to turn around and go back to turn off their computers or to get their briefcases or travel bags. Some survived (those who assumed they’d just go back and get it later); others did not.
Normalcy bias is a term that describes a human reaction to horror and tragedy, to danger and disaster. It explains, in no small part, why so many Germans just ignored the fact that their Jewish, gay, and otherwise “unsuitable,” non-”Arayan” neighbors kept disappearing and why they ignored rumors of the concentration camps and the genocide taking place right under their noses. The horror of it was just too much, so they worried about something else, anything else. Whatever their country’s leader told them to worry about. And that’s what is happening here in America, mostly among conservatives (but also among many on the left), normalcy bias.
The world is in an unbelievable state of disarray, and we’re staring at it all, all the various pieces of a big, horrifying puzzle, and we’re wondering if we should go back for our purses, grab our briefcases, or to turn off our computers. America is being fundamentally transformed, steadily and with alarming precision right before our eyes–almost as if there were a larger picture, that of a fully-transformed America at the end, and we’re talking about saving our purses and a bit of electricity. We woke up, that famous awakened sleeping and silent giant that we were only a year ago, saw what was happening, could not compute it . . . and hit the snooze button. Getting a few more minutes of peaceful, oblivious sleep seems so important, we need our energy for 2012, or to fight for life, or oh anything but deal with what is happening, so we reflexively slap that snooze button. Normalcy bias.
And we’re all doing it to some degree. Some of us are checking out completely, turning off the news, not reading blogs, ignoring reality (been there, done that, earned a couple million in FarmVille). Some of us are focused on abortion, some on the 2012 GOP primaries, some on smaller pieces of the puzzle like net neutrality or the government takeover of health care (been there, done that, too). As if any of this will matter when the building collapses. Some of us have made a conscious decision to stop paying attention, to focus on . . . anything else. But the world keeps descending into chaos, America is under attack from within and without.
Disaster is all around us. It’s in the contradictory aims of the far left to destroy America but to simultaneously use American money and resources to change the entire world order. It’s in the calls of international, U. S.-based “international” unions and assorted communists to give every citizen of the world a “vote” in American presidential elections (the assumption being that America will somehow stay important to anyone other than Americans–and those who want to see us all dead–when they’re finished with the fundamental transformation, will somehow be the world leader that they don’t want us to be–don’t try to figure that one out, it’s mind-boggling in its myopia, sense of superiority, and ignorance), and it’s in the stated desire of powerful leftists to literally wipe out capitalism (again, doing this would destroy not only the U. S. and our economy but that of the entire world, including non- and anti-capitalist nations that depend on us for one thing or another, be that financial aid or military support or the intervention of our humanitarian agencies like the Red Cross or the Peace Corps).
It’s in the stripping away of our rights, one by one, the nationalization of not only our healthcare but of other private industries that are “working with” the government “for a better tomorrow” (i.e. not unlike those Jews, hoping to be spared perhaps, who helped the Nazis round up other Jews), the police state for which we’re being primed (it’s no accident that the executive branch is making Americans submit to unconstitutional searches and arrests in our nation’s airports, nor that they’ve already announced intentions to roll this out to every public venue from buses and trains to sporting and concert arenas to shopping malls), and the new regulations (they can’t get laws passed through even a democrat majority-holding Congress, so they have to use federal–executive branch–agencies) that are crippling Americans, tying our hands, shutting us off from one another and from the truth.
Is this alarmist? Nope, it’s all there, we know about the bits and pieces–heck, this blog and many others chronicle all of these and more, but we’re experiencing normalcy bias. The buildings have been hit, we were in the stairwell, but we tell ourselves: Naw, that’s crazy, this is not happening at all. It’s all in our head. Or it doesn’t mean, can’t possibly mean, what logic tells us it means.
Now where did I put my purse?